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The BoldHeartMama desires to enjoy living out the choices that she’s made for herself and for her family. She is a relentless learner: curious, inquisitive, and open to the possibilities of her life and of the human condition. She understands that there isn't one right way—she asks questions that dig deeper to make sense of it all and to find her own path.

She pays attention to and nurtures whatever it is she really cares about, letting go of the rest (for now) knowing she can't do and be everything all at once. She embraces her imperfections in favor of "good enough"—her imperfect self, her imperfect home, her imperfect mothering, her imperfect desires—and she never stops evolving as a woman and mother. She is a BoldHeart, authentic and true to herself.

The BoldHeartMama knows there is only this one life and she's all in. She is present and engaged and making things happen. Her intuition is her guide. She seeks to be inspired and relies on her creativity and her resourcefulness to solve the big and little challenges that she and her family face together as they navigate their relationships and their world.

The BoldHeartMama is willing to take calculated risks to make her biggest dreams come true. She is living out her BoldHeart in the moment, making small moves and taking little steps that add up, and she's cultivating a good life for herself and her family in the process. Read More!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lessons in Love: discipline and mothering

Thank you to Laura at Navigating the Mothership for inviting me to share with her readers a snapshot of how discipline plays out in the Sears house with two little boys ages 1.5 and 3.5!

Shortly after Merritt was born Laura shared another guest-post I wrote titled Lessons in Love: learning to mother two, which focused on how I was managing the transition from 1 child to 2 after a preterm birth and a 28-day NICU stay. While that post touched on discipline strategies for the younger toddler, this post focuses on discipline for older ones because every day is uncharted territory, and because 3 year olds make 2 year olds look so easy.

Admittedly, discipline is a hard topic to tackle in a blog post. There are amazing blogs dedicated solely to this one aspect of parenting. I will do my best to share with you here some of the issues we face and offer some advice based on what is working for us right now.

Discipline is an ongoing challenge at our house in the way that it demands a high level of daily intention and regular re-evaluation of our methods. It's an iterative process. The kids' abilities and their understanding of the world in which they live changes daily and so my expectations and guiding approach to their behavior necessitates that I adapt my mothering to accommodate and facilitate their individual paths.

My husband and I take the long view approach to parenting. We have ideas about the kind of adults that we hope our boys grow into: engaged, empathetic, compassionate, confident, and self loving, among other traits. The challenge for me is to remain focused on those goals when I'm exhausted with the reality of daily caretaking and feeling pushed to my own limits by the near constant violation of social etiquette and common courtesy that characterizes the toddler set by virtue of their development. I see my role as one that can facilitate their growth and learning by using discipline as an opportunity to educate, not to reward, punish, or shame. To connect and build on the trust that we share, not to withdraw my love or attention in a show of power or in an effort to control.

I keep at the forefront of my mind the words of Alphie Kohn:

It may sound obvious, but we sometimes seem to forget that, even when kids do rotten things, our goal should not be to make them feel bad, nor to stamp a particular behavior out of existence. Rather, what we want is to influence the way they think and feel, to help them become the kind of people who wouldn't want to act cruelly. And, of course, our other goal is to avoid injuring our relationship with them in the process.

The way I choose to discipline my children is influenced by so much: my core belief about children and my understanding of their development, my own childhood experiences, and my strengths and weaknesses as an imperfect human being.

My approach to discipline has always been intertwined and woven deeply into my values on mothering. Understanding the physical, psychosocial, and cognitive capacity of the boys' development helps me to know what is normal and appropriate for their ages, and offers me the ability to proactively implement discipline in a way that empowers my parenting instead of relying on fear and reactivity as my guide; fear that my kids are going to be doing these things forever, and reactive to find a short-term solution to make it stop.

Recurring Discipline Themes:

Aggressive and/or inconsiderate behavior: 
Roscoe's imagination is wild and unbound. Since he was very young he has acted out his emotions and imaginative play in animal form. He is in character 80% of the day and appears to have little self awareness when role playing with such reckless intensity. At any given moment I can peek into his world by asking him what animal he is, a simple question that typically elicits a passionate narrative of predator and prey.

Behaviors like headbutting (I'm a bull!), spitting (I'm a fire breathing dragon!), biting (I'm a lion eating a zebra!), hitting in frustration (or because he is a viking slaying a dragon!), and otherwise using his body, facial expressions, and voice to intimidate his brother, or other children and adults in his vicinity are a constant problem. He does not easily respond to verbal requests or even physical restraint in efforts to bring him back into reality. Social settings in which cooperative play is expected are particularly difficult for me. My favorite author on the topic of child discipline, Judy Arnall, wrote a great summary article about how to handle this situation, and her description is more or less how we deal with Roscoe's aggressive behavior in public spaces. Sometimes I let my need for social connection with other adults supersede Roscoe's need for a change in scenery, and I am reminded that I should be more willing to abandon the activity at hand and pack up for home when transgressions are repeated and it is clear that Roscoe is not able to fully or appropriately participate.

Not listening: Pretty straightforward here! I've learned that preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 can be expected to "listen", which really means to do what we say within a specific arbitrary time frame that we set, less than 40% of the time. Considering how many requests I make of Roscoe and Merritt as we move through our day, guiding them through their routines, transitions, and activities, it is not surprising that I feel unheard much of the time.

Not sharing/taking toys from others: Roscoe is getting better at this, and we have always framed sharing in the context of taking turns. I allow him discretion to identify toys that he does not have to share--much like in adult life, there are some things that are ours and that we do not care to share in case they are damaged or lost (best to put those items away before company comes though!).  For everything else I make a point to let him know that when he is done, Brother or Friend will take their turn. And then I let him finish his turn in his own time frame. Admittedly, in social settings, I often feel pressure to push him along, but at home he gets to take his time. When he is done I bring it full circle by announcing, "OK, Roscoe is done with his turn. Brother, it is your turn now." Both boys react very favorably to this approach and I think each opportunity to successfully demonstrate the technique provides them with a better understanding and greater trust that each of their needs will be met. Roscoe also has a good habit of offering a "trade" or substitution toy when Merritt is playing with a particular toy that Roscoe wants.

Sibling Relationships:
As their mother, I want the boys to have a healthy friendship and a common respect for one another. I largely believe that the tone of sibling relationships is set by parents. Like in other aspects of their lives I want the boys to learn how to solve problems in a way that is effective and fair. I can help them by facilitating their understanding of the others' point of view, and by modeling effective communication when they are in conflict. In the past I would attempt to get to the bottom of their conflict (who hit whom, how did the toy get broken, etc.) at least for the benefit of my own understanding, but I have since changed my approach.

Now, I address the upset child, and listen to get a better understanding of the underlying need. Then I translate: "Merritt: Roscoe is frustrated that you are moving his trucks into the bin. He is making a special pile of wrecked cars. Roscoe: Merritt feels like you have all the trucks and is sad that he doesn't have any toys to play with." Next I give a suggestion: "Hey, Roscoe, instead of ripping from brother's hand the toy you want, you could say, 'Merritt, I am making a special pile of trucks, I don't want you to mess them up. Here are two cars you can play with.'" Usually Roscoe expresses his understanding of the alternative form of communication and sometimes asks for a do-over, which I grant. We all feel good when the reenactment is successful. With this approach I avoid choosing sides or handing down judgment, which is not the role that I want to play between them anyway, especially as they grow older.

There are some definite absolutes in our house. It is not OK for either brother to physically assault the other, even if by accident. It is my choice not to engage in power struggles with either of them and there are a lot of behaviors that I overlook in exercising my right not to engage them. However, if I see with my own eyes Roscoe hit Merritt, for example, I make an immediate and obvious gasp of disapproval first attending to Merritt and then addressing Roscoe. In an effort to encourage their natural tendency toward empathy and compassion, I make frequent declarations about the importance of paying attention (a different but synonymous word choice for "be careful"), being kind, and being gentle. I think Roscoe understands what is expected on this point, but whether he has enough control to thwart his impulses is another story.

Discipline Tools

There are many tools I rely on, but these are the current and primary ones in no particular order:
  • Change the environment: new play area, new activity
  • Take action: get up, engage, facilitate, remove, etc. 
  • Count to five: there are times when compliance in a specific time frame is necessary. This technique offers two options: 1. Roscoe gets moving in the right direction by the time I count to five, and retains his autonomy to complete a task on his own, or else 2. I step in and complete the task for him. 
  • Time-in as a calm down tool: separate child from the offending situation, help him to calm down, then reconnect on the way to problem solving the situation. (In the recent past I've played around with more traditional time-out, however, I've found that it isn't as effective and doesn't foster our relationship.)
  • Ask questions. Behavior is a symptom of unmet need. I try to understand the kids' perspectives to the best of my ability so that I can be fair in my assessment and continue to meet them where they are.
  • For whining or demanding voices I say things like, "I can't understand you when you use that voice. Instead you could say... or, You might try...." When the appropriate voice is used I respond to their requests immediately.
  • Natural consequences: If you break it, you fix it. If you want it, you ask for it. If you make a mess, you clean it up.The implementation of this is relatively new in our house, but it works well!
  • Acknowledge the impact of how their behavior affects others: I often use the motivating phrase, "Thank you, that is very helpful." while providing a brief explanation of how their decision to clean up after themselves, or to not dump out all their toys saves me time or energy. Or a focus on feelings: "I feel sad when you say I'm stupid." (true story!!)
  • When/then phrases to demonstrate the natural order of things. WHEN you pick up your toys, THEN we will go outside for a walk. We are planners, and I make a point to let the kids participate in developing our plan for the day. The when/then prompt reminds them of what is upcoming without becoming a bribe. 
  • Yelling: This one I don't recommend! Sometimes I yell to be heard, in the hopes of being listened to, or to make a voice that can rise above the near constant chaos of a full house. I am just one of many here. At times attention spans and patience can be hard to come by, for little guys and big people too. What I'm learning is that I need to better at boundary and limit setting.

A few Do's that I keep close to my heart:

  • Give the benefit of the doubt. Our children are good and well-intentioned little people inside, even if they do things we don't like.
  • Give trust and respect.
  • Avoid power struggles. I pick my battles largely around safety and personal boundaries. I'm not here to win or to be the boss. We're a family and we have to work together to understand everyone's needs and to help ensure that they are met.
  • Don't hold grudges.
  • Apologize when appropriate. If I screw up we talk about it when everyone is calm and I apologize. Each of us has needs and feelings, and none of us is perfect. I want to foster a home-life that not only provides everyone with validation and freedom to feel their emotions, but also provides the tools needed to express them in appropriate ways. 
  • Address basic need for water, food, and attention. 

Final Thoughts

Parenting is life (And therapy! as I like to say), and through this role I am learning and growing as a person, just as my husband is. As far as I can tell there is no end point. Every day is a new day: my boy is one day older tomorrow and I've never before parented a child of 3 years, 6 months, and 4 days. If the family dynamic is upset something isn't working and change is necessary to regain balance.  As much as I crave routine and stability, I am learning to remain flexible knowing that it is required for our success as a family. I build my relationship with my kids with every interaction and with every day that goes by. As I hone my own skill-set I'm a better teacher to my children.
I also know that I've had a good day when at the end of it my relationship with the kids is intact as a result of my ability to mother with intention and purpose. I have become more aware of my triggers: noise chaos, not feeling heard, loss of control, interruptions during important tasks. When I find myself feeling resentful that is my cue that I need to do a better job setting or respecting my own boundaries. Ahhh, the fine line between respectful vs indulgent parenting.

I also try to make PEACE a priority every day. In fact, it is at the top of my to-do list.

A few well read and much loved parenting resources: 

Becoming the Parent You Want To Be by Laura Davis & Janis Keyser
Discipline Without Distress by Judy Arnall
Unconditional Parenting by Alphie Kohn
Janet Lansbury's blog, Elevating Childcare
Gina Osher's blog The Twin Coach

Please share your parenting book suggestions, I'm always looking for good reads!

1 comment :

  1. For all the parents out there, you should read this master piece and should take out some key notes. For the author, you did really good job here, thank you for sharing this blog with us


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